I was taking the train a couple of weeks ago. Where I live in Queens, the subway is above ground, so if you want to take a ride, you’ve got to walk up these two flights of stairs to get to the platform. And exactly halfway up, I ran into my old friend Greg, he was coming down the opposite direction, man, I hadn’t seen him in probably like five years, maybe longer. We caught each other’s eyes right away and stopped to say hi.
A lot of the time it’s a pain to have to stop and say hello to someone when you’re just trying to go about your day. But this was different, Greg used to be a pretty good friend, at least for me, this wasn’t your typical “hey how’s it going,” I mean, maybe it was a chore for him, but if it was, he was doing a good job of not letting me know it, trying his best to seem genuinely pleased to see me.
But after maybe fifteen seconds of pleasantries, right after we got the “It’s been such a long time!” automatic intro sentences out of the way, but right before we could really get into any specific “Where are you living these days?” advanced conversation points, this MTA employee comes up from behind me and gives us this really curt, “Listen, you guys can’t congregate on the stairs, OK, you’ve got to move.”
And yes, it wasn’t the ideal spot to catch up with an old friend, but it wasn’t super crowded, and we both made sure to move as far to the side of the staircase as possible. People were going around us. I’m very aware of whether or not I’m causing a traffic jam, and this was definitely not at all impeding the flow of foot speed.
So I kind of motioned to the MTA employee, like I didn’t say anything to him directly, but I made eye contact, I nodded, and then I looked back toward Greg with renewed urgency, like, yes, let’s continue what we’re doing here, but let’s maybe speed it up a little bit, because we are on the stairs, we can’t very well stand here for too much longer.
But the MTA guy wouldn’t have it, he wouldn’t even let Greg and me get in another back-and-forth, I was just about to ask what he was up to these days, but this guy shouts, “Look, I can’t let you just hang out here. OK, you either have to up the stairs, or you have to go down the stairs, but you can’t just stand here on the stairs.”
And I instantly got kind of annoyed, like yes, I know that we shouldn’t be standing here, but this is where this conversation happened to take place, OK, it’s not like I was like, hey, Greg, do you want to get together this afternoon to catch up? Yeah, great, meet me at the Broadway stop of the N train, the Northwest staircase, about halfway up.
Also, I resented this guy’s message, like, here, let me spell it out for you, let me give you one of these long detailed overly worded I’m-in-charge ways of communicating to you what could easily be said in three or four words. So I turned around, I looked this guy in the eye and I said, “Thank you,” while trying not to appear visibly pissed off, like I tried to smile, and I hoped to get the message across that, OK man, I hear you, we hear you, but thank you, now please go back to doing whatever else it was that you were doing before you came over here to start vigorously enforcing the no-standing-on-the-staircase rules.
So Greg and I kind of continued talking, but it was only like a word, maybe two words, because the MTA guy in his orange neon MTA worker’s vest was not having it. “Gentlemen,” he interrupted. And now I thought, OK, this guy’s not going to let up, maybe we should move? But where? Was I going to go all the way back down the stairs? Because Greg didn’t look like he was willing to walk all the way back up. What if one of us made that effort and then the conversation fizzled out? What if it turned out to be nothing more than a heavy initial dose of nostalgia before we both realized, wait a second, there’s a reason I haven’t seen this person in years, it’s because whatever it was that we had in common wasn’t strong enough to sustain a lasting friendship?
And this got me even more annoyed, like what the hell man, you can’t just let two people run into each other and say hi? Can’t you just take a hint? OK? I took your hint, right, you don’t want us standing here anymore. Hint taken. Can you now take my hint and leave us the fuck alone? Just for like a minute? How long do you really think we’re going to stand here? Is it that important to you that we move right this second?
And so I turned my attention from Greg toward the MTA guy, I started giving him the business, throwing out stuff like, “Why don’t you just back off, all right?” and more stuff like, “You’re not a cop, OK? You want to call the cops? Call the cops, because the last time I checked, MTA guys don’t really have too much in the way of actual authority.”
Which, I don’t know what I was going for here, it was a pure reaction. If I was thinking that my display of defiance might have somehow bought Greg and me a little more one-on-one time, I was wrong. Because even though this MTA guy might not have had any actual enforcement abilities, he was still wearing that vest, he still had a few non-arresting powers at his disposal.
Like getting-in-my-face powers, asking me if I was aware that threatening an MTA employee was a felony offense. “Who’s threatening? I’m not threatening?” I shot back with my hands in the air.
At this point Greg started heading down the stairs, “All right man, it was great to see you. Let’s catch up soon!” and I thought about going down with him, continuing the conversation at on the sidewalk, but that was it, the goodbye was said. And would our forced continued discussion be required to talk about the sort-of argument I had just engaged in with this total stranger?
Yeah, that conversation was over, I’d probably never see Greg again, not that it really mattered, not really. I was already feeling that nostalgia buzz start to die down somewhat. And then it was just me and the MTA guy, he was just staring at me, sort of smiling, like, ha, there goes your friend. I just turned and headed upstairs, muttering, “Asshole,” under my breath.
“What was that?” he screamed out after me, I guess I muttered it a little louder than I thought. But just as I considered saying something else, I realized, no, I muttered that exactly as loud as I had intended, just loud enough for him to hear me say it, and now I’ll just slip back into the background of the city, paying no attention to this crazy guy in an orange vest yelling up at some other guy already disappearing into a crowd of people waiting for the N train.